ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 01

Last-stop Passenger

Author | Autor: Rubens Figueiredo

Translated by Alison Entrekin

Not seeing, not comprehending and not feeling even. And all that without being an actual idiot, much less a madman, in other people’s eyes. A scatterbrain, in a way — and kind of unintentionally. Which also helped. Cause for mockery to some, endearing to others, there was a quality which, at almost thirty, he could already confuse with what he was — in other people’s eyes. Except that it wasn’t enough.
  No matter how scatterbrained he was, he still had to look for ways to be more scatterbrained.
  Pedro opened the back cover of his tiny radio with his fingernail and changed the battery. The music came back, as loud as the crackling and louder than the noise on the street. He had stuffed his earphones into his ears. He was standing, late in the afternoon, caught in a low diagonal by an ember-coloured sun that wouldn’t leave and refused to ease off. A sun that was almost touching his forehead and that of everyone else lined up in a queue, waiting for the bus at the last stop on the route.
  There was nothing between the sun and their heads except the highest part of the concrete post and the slack electricity and phone wires overhead, which irradiated out on both sides with the symmetry of ribs. The queue’s shadow, extending almost as far as it could on the pavement, was the only shade. The delayed bus, the stench of urine and rubbish, the pavement riddled with potholes and puddles, the blazing hot asphalt with blue streaks of oil, almost smoking — Pedro was already used to it. It’s not the spoiled, but the adaptable who will survive.
  Come to think of it, it wasn’t so much a question of habit or being spoiled. It just so happens that it is always time to advance on the evolutionary scale, move up another step. It really is impossible to stay in one place and no matter which way your legs start to walk the ground soon takes the form of stairs. Besides which, one must recognise: without discomfort, adversity, some kind of suffering, how can you expect there to be any adaptation?
  Perhaps because his ears were clogged with music, it took Pedro a moment to notice that a bus was approaching from behind, along the street, close to the pavement. Loose windows and metal plates rattled inside and out of the bus. The fuel tank lid had come open and, with every jolt of the wheels, the tiny metal square banged against the side of the bus. For a moment, the tall, rectangular shadow of the bus covered the shadow of the queue on the pavement. But instead of stopping, it drove straight past, left the queue behind and pulled up at the next stop, twenty-five meters away.
  It was a bus from another line. The driver turned off the engine, stood, jumped over the gearbox and thumped his way down the three steps. Each thump made the entire bus shake. He then hurried around the front. Hidden from the people waiting in different queues on the pavement, he urinated out in the open — back to the street, body facing the wheel, almost touching the front tire.
  With the arrival of the bus that was no good to him, Pedro noticed how his queue vibrated from end to end, in a current of impatience. Some heads peered over their shoulders, looking for the late bus. Strangers grumbled to one another. Bodies shifted their weight to the other leg, resentfully treading in the holes in the pavement. 
  But so far, none of it was anything new. For the last few months, every Friday at the same time, Pedro headed for that last bus stop and took his place in the queue. He already knew several passengers by sight. Effortlessly and without the slightest intention, he even knew a thing or two about some of them — he already expected this one to be irritated and that one to be resigned, because of how long the bus was taking. Sometimes, without realizing it, he even made a mental game of it, testing how predictable their reactions were. And in this manner he mixed with the people, aligned himself with some of them and, through these ones, became closer to them all. Even so, even close, it was very clear that he couldn’t see the people in the queue as beings exactly the same as him. 
  Pedro didn’t know the reason. Nor did he make any effort to find one, because for him it was too vague a feeling, almost in the form of a secret. Nevertheless, he had to recognise that the shared impulse to all head in the same direction and the yearning for punctuality, or at least constancy, weren’t enough to make them of the same blood. Maybe they belonged to a distant branch of the family. What’s more, they were probably already part of a new species in evolution: some individuals had resisted for longer; others had grown weak and been left behind. 
  From where he was, isolated by a barrier that he was unable to put his finger on, Pedro started to see a variety of superior humans in everyone there. He began to think that he himself, or something in his blood, had been left behind, at some wrong turn in the generations. 
  And presto: there was a good example of what happened to Pedro time and again. He knew it. From daydream to daydream, detour to detour, his thoughts cast out far, loosened their clutch on one another and generally ended up dispersing without a trace of what they had been, of what they had accumulated. At times, however, right there in the bus queue, in the middle of those people, his lost ideas returned from all directions, converged in a flash and Pedro, surprised and even startled, found himself face to face with the question: Why do they let me stay here? Why don’t they kick me out, as it is their right to do?
  He knew that for many passengers it was the second bus in their daily commute home. He knew that the woman who looked sixtyish, but who was probably really only about forty-three, with bands of fat on her back that made deep pleats in her blouse, was missing her lower front teeth. And he knew that in her bag, always stuffed to brimming, she had a Bible with a clear plastic cover, which she would open and read on her bus seat during the approximately hour-and-a-half journey.
  Pedro knew that the young man of about twenty with the shaved head, two fingers forever paralysed in a slight hook as a result of some accident, was going to fall asleep out of weariness in the middle of the journey. His head would rest against the bus window, or roll about from time to time, almost touching whoever was sitting next to him.
  Pedro even knew that the man of about forty in an appliance repair company uniform, with a brown burn scar on his forearm, had the sports pages of a newspaper folded up in his tool case. As he left work, he probably picked up the pages on his way through reception to read on his ride.
  What Pedro didn’t know most of the time, or couldn’t remember, was that he was there too, along with everyone else. He made all the right movements, occupied the appropriate space for the time and place, and even took his time observing and memorizing details — which to him were random, interesting. But his attention had more strength than quality.
  His vision was fine, but he saw things as if from afar or through a hole in the wall. Unseen, Pedro didn’t even see himself. He couldn’t imagine how he looked — his back, his arms, the nape of his neck — to those people.
   In the shadow of the queue on the pavement, his silhouette moved its arm. Pedro changed the position of his miniscule radio in an attempt to find better reception. Like everyone else, he was tired. He hadn’t loaded boxes of frozen chicken onto the back of a truck, nor had he mopped the corridors and stairs of a fifteen-story building from top to bottom as some there had, but he’d spent a lot of time on foot at work.
  His blood seemed to descend heavily through his legs to the bottom of his feet. His hardened toes ached even, squished against one another in his tennis shoes.
  Someone was singing on the radio, and loudly, in his ear. The lyrics of songs generally didn’t exist for Pedro. His indifferent, tired hearing drained the words of their meaning. Then he freed himself of the articulation of the syllables too. All that was left was the timbre, the pitch, the cadence of the voice and the instruments.
  In the sequence of musical notes, Pedro then distinguished, of his own accord, another species’ phrases. Marked by commas and full stops, imbued with logic and even eloquence, they were such perfect phrases that, for them, words didn’t make the slightest sense. With the enjoyment of one listening to an intelligent conversation, Pedro followed the movement of those phrases, composed only of the notes in the melody and accompaniment. The witticism of the phrases, in this case, proved even greater because the conversation continued and took off in several different directions, without ever having to refer to anything.
  Suddenly, Pedro saw the woman with the Bible leave the queue and lug her heavy bag towards the next queue. Maybe she was in more of a hurry that afternoon. The problem, figured Pedro, putting himself in her place, was that the other bus line was no good to her. It did in fact take the same route as the bus that was running late for several kilometers. Heading west: the sun always ahead, the sun getting lower and lower, grasping at the antennas and wires over the endless sea of poor homes on both sides of the road.
  But after almost an hour of travelling, the other bus took a long, hundred-and- eighty-degree curve, and left the expressway well before the viaduct that led to the neighbourhood where the woman lived.
  The same place Pedro wanted to go. A total difference of about five kilometers. Did she intend to cover that distance on foot, and carrying that heavy bag, to boot? Pedro had barely finished considering the matter, doing the math and imagining the feeling in the woman’s slightly swollen legs, when he saw two students of about twelve years of age also leave the queue.
  One tugged her friend’s arm, pulled her braid, opened her very white eyes wide, shook her head atop her long neck and said something Pedro couldn’t hear. "Let’s go, come on." It must have been that, judging from the way her mouth moved. After a quick little sprint on skinny legs with scissor-like movements, silhouetted by the sun, the pair joined the end of the queue at the next stop down.
  Even further along, at the beginning of the queue, the passengers were already boarding the bus. The window seats were occupied one by one. Pedro could see heads appearing at open windows and behind the glass. Several faces peered back at Pedro’s queue.
  The mere delay of the bus, which was longer than usual, may have justified the edginess, also different to usual, now rippling through the queue. You could even feel it from afar, in the faces of the passengers in the windows of the bus at the next stop. Except that Pedro couldn’t see the point in allowing himself to be gripped by that anxiety.   The delay, no matter how big, was just another delay. It was routine and, within routine, there was always a place for edginess, irritation.
  In the queue, right in front of him, was a neck with thick skin, very red from the sun and creased with wrinkles — even deeper at the point where the collar pressed against the fat of the person’s neck. It was a man with short grey hair, who glanced over his shoulder once, twice, hesitant, restless. He said something to the almost-fat woman in front of him and they both left the queue in a hurry. They were the last on the other bus.
  Right afterwards the driver shut the door with a squeal of compressed air and a clap and the bus took off. It rocked even more as it pulled away from the curb, where the asphalt was wavier because of the sun, which was so hot that the tar actually softened and sunk under the weight of the wheels.
  Now the only thing to do was wait in the queue. As well as the radio, which, above all, he brought to listen to as he waited, Pedro always carried in his backpack a book to read on the trip. He owned a very small shop in partnership with a lawyer friend, where he sold second-hand books. This afternoon he’d brought a book from a collection that had been sold on newsstands some fifteen years earlier. It was about the life and ideas of Charles Darwin.

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